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Industrial tourism in S. João da Madeira, in the North of Portugal

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In northern Portugal there are various types of tourism. In the recent years, industrial tourism has gained increasing importance, and S. João da Madeira was the first city to introduce this type of tourism in our country, with the aim of bringing factories and their brands closer to the general public.

Despite being the smallest municipality in Portugal, S. João da Madeira is full of history and traditions that you will be able to get to know during your visit.

Learn all about it at the Welcome Center

Located in the Torre da Oliva – one of the most emblematic and historic buildings of S. João da Madeira -, the Welcome Centre is a space where you will find all the necessary information about industrial tourism in S. João da Madeira and about the routes through its industrial heritage. This space is the starting point for an unforgettable journey into the past, the present and the future of our industrial history.

Here you will be able to make reservations to visit the factories, request the services of an industrial tourist guide, ask questions and make appointments for workshops. A team will be ready to help you and to introduce you to your industrial tourist guide or to provide you with multimedia guide about the factories or institutions that you want to visit. Take a look at the interactive table with information about the routes, get to know the history of Viarco and of the Oliva factory, through two interactive chronological graphs.

Industrial tourism routes

The “Routes through the industrial heritage of S. João da Madeira”  are a touristic product that combines the recovery and preservation of the industrial assets of the region and it handles the heritage as a source of touristic promotion of what is an essential hub of the Portuguese business scenario.

Viarco, the only pencil factory in operation in the country, Helsar and Evereste, in the shoe industry, the Cortadoria Nacional de Pelo and Fepsa, from the head-wear sector and the Heliotêxtil, trimmings factory, are the factories that constitute the “Routes through the industrial heritage” of the de S. João da Madeira.

The Vocational Training Centre of the Footwear Industry and the Portuguese Technological Footwear Centre are included in this industrial tourism route, as well as the Hat Museum, one of the symbols of the city and unique in the Iberian Peninsula.

The fame of Portuguese footwear

Footwear is among the most exported Portuguese products and São João da Madeira is its production centre. We suggest you start your visit at the theoretical, scientific and educational areas of the footwear industry.

The Vocational Training Centre of the Footwear Industry is where many of the future Portuguese footwear designers are born. Moreover, this centre has gained international recognition through the prizes awarded to its students in several contests. Here, you will have the unique opportunity to visit education spaces, laboratories and production units that mimic real factories of the sector. Did you know that this is the only school where students possess all the necessary resources to create a show from beginning to end? If you prefer to obtain theoretical knowledge about the footwear industry, the centre can provide you with information about the evolution of footwear throughout history.

Now leave education and research behind and let's move on to the action! At Helsar, one of Portugal´s most important shoe companies, internationally famous women's footwear is produced. If you are a shoe lover, get ready to spend hours in the museum room of the factory, where you will find the most important models of each collection since the factory started its production in 1979. In the warehouse, also open to visits, there are hundreds of hides exposed, ready to be transformed into the shoes of the next collection, after going through the production line which includes careful manual labour.

From high heals to men's and handmade footwear by Evereste. Despite producing some female models, Evereste´s focus is men's shoes, for their own brand or for other brands and designers who entrust them with their production. In the exhibition room of the company, you will see classic and more daring shoes, ready to be personalised to the customer's taste.

Hats: from São João da Madeira to the world

Did you know that the felt for the female British police hats is produced in São João da Madeira? The company Fepsa is one of the most important companies producing raw fur, transforming it into felt for use in hats. During your visit you will be able to go through all the production stages and at the end you can visit the warehouse where the finished felt is stored, aligned in different colours.

Most of the raw material used in Fepsa is from the Cortadoria Nacional de Pêlo. This industrial unit transforms animal fur from non-endangered species to be sold, raw, to clothing sectors. You can only visit some areas of this factory.

From the fur to the felt, from the felt to the hat: this is the manufacturing process of a hat. Although in the first part of the XX century this was the main industry of São João da Madeira, there are currently no factories producing hats.

The Hat Museum, unique in its genre in the Iberian Peninsula, shows the history of this industry sector and still creates some custom-made hats on demand. The museum exhibits many hats from different times and some machinery and tools used in the industry.

The Viarco pencil

If you are still curious about Viarco pencils, nothing could be better than going to the only pencil factory in operation in the country. In the city since 1931, the walls of the Viarco factory are an archive of old ads of the company´s products, in poster format. The smell of graphite hovers in the air and reminds us of our primary school days.

From the graphite of Viarco to the weaving looms of the Heliotêxtil, factory that produces clothing labels with washing instructions for internationally renowned brands, car seat belts or tow straps for sports bags. Get to know the manufacturing process of the straps, labels and trimmings and let yourself be surprised by the thousands of threads that can create such complex patterns.

Come to northern Portugal and visit S. João da Madeira. Only 40km from Porto and take the opportunity to visit the Cidade Invicta. Contact us for answers to any of your questions and we will be glad to present you with a plan for your visit.


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